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The Military Command and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, What Next

In an exceptional and rather dramatic decision a month ago, an Egyptian court banned all activities of the Muslim Brotherhood and ordered the confiscation of party’s funds. If fully or even partly implemented, this ban will create serious existential challenge for the brotherhood. Their best options at this stage are: firstly, to transform to a completely underground armed group that will fight the military regime trough armed resistance and other violent tactics. Otherwise they can simply comply with regimes’ road map and hope to find a solution at the negotiation table.

The second option means renouncing, at least for time being, the demands they put forth following the removal of President Morsi in early July. Ideally, this would lead to the beginning of a political dialogue between the Military and the brotherhood in order to reach a kind of compromise. Their political influence will be diminished, but the movement itself will be preserved on the political playground, hoping for better times ahead.

Comparing the Strategy and the tactics of both sides we can learn that the element of surprise has been a key element to the success of the Egyptian army’s action. The elected president and the Muslim Brotherhood were caught unprepared. President Morsi didn’t succeed to act against the military leadership probably because he didn’t receive any early warnings about the military’s intentions, plans or preparations to act against him and his backers. The military command acted quickly and in a matter of days the elected President and his close aides and staff were ousted with no ability to resist. A new government was installed and even a replacement for the President was found. Typically in moves of this scale, dozens are involved in planning and hundreds are in different parts of the preparations, and incredibly no information was leaked. As a result of that, the target of the military action, Mursi, couldn’t even been heard protesting.

In the military or security establishment no significant change was observed, the only prominent figure to be ousted was Major-General Mohamed Raafats Shehate. He was the head of the General Intelligence service, responsible for foreign and domestic intelligence gathering. The fact that just one person from the security echelon was dismissed is an indication that the rest were either participants in the plan or at least were not considered by, General Sisi, to be a potential threat.

The military interference in the political arena is almost four months old and in that period of time no reliable information has been received about: disorder as soldiers not following orders, or any significant defection among the Egyptian military ranks. The Muslim Brotherhood tried and are still trying to convince officers and soldiers not to comply with the supreme command’s orders. The army clashed with protesting civilians, most notably in mid-August in Medinat Nasser and other locations in Cairo and other cities across Egypt, and in a minor scale on October 6th. Those clashes resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties, but the army held strong. They were able to cope with the conflicting situation of hundreds lying dead in the streets without any evident demoralization or splits in the security forces ranks.

Not only are the army units working well together, but the entire Egyptian system is well-coordinated, including the police, the domestic security services and the other parts of the executive branch. The main conclusion stemming from this reality is that the majority of Egyptians is in support of the military, or at least is not directly opposed to those in uniform doing their job. With the understanding that they are backed by a majority of the Egyptian people, the high military command and the politicians that have joined them are moving forward. Meanwhile, the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood has found itself under siege. Those that were in executive positions have been arrested and consequently interrogated, permitting the authorities to learn much more about the brotherhood, its assets and funds and future plans.

The Muslim Brotherhood are conducting a campaign of de-legitimization of the military command and leaning on tens of thousands of supporters to be called on streets and expressing their frustration and preference to sacrifice their lives instead of accepting the military move. The terror attacks, that the Egyptian regime is experiencing, are unacceptable according to Muslim Brotherhood’s speakers. Those speakers are claiming that they are in favor of street protest only.

Some of the terror attacks are suggesting that a trained skilled armed groups are responsible to some of the attack as: the assassination attempt of the minister of interior ( September 5th) using an explosive charge, the rocket propelled grenades launched on the satellite dish at the main communication station in the Egyptian a capital (September 30), the killing of six soldiers that were in a patrol near the Suez canal city of Ismailia by masked gunmen (October 7), and series of terror attacks in north Sinai that most of them remained unsolved. 
The events in north Sinai lead the army to enact a series of operations against radical elements among the tribes there, and against Palestinian groups from the Gaza strip suspected of supporting them. For the first time, since it took over the Gaza strip in June 2007, Hamas had to face a severe crack down at the hands of the Egyptian army. The Egyptian army cut off the smuggling lines that existed between the two, through which traffic of armed activists and weaponry travelled in both directions over the last ten years.

The pressure on Hamas, a Palestinian movement considered to be affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, has continued to grow. The main reason for that is the known military capability of Hamas: its proven experience in the use of weapons, explosives, rockets and possessing the knowhow to manufacture them. Being a handy potential source of quick militarization for the sister movement in Egypt, Hamas was identified as an imminent threat to the Egyptian regime. Blocking the flow of trained militants and weapons from Gaza to their Egyptians brothers became a top priority mission of the Egyptian supreme command.

The army is in a continuous state of alert, acting in two different theatres, but remarkably it seems that this is not affecting its efficiency, and no difficulty in the army’s ability to function has been observed. It seems that the military forces under the command of General Sisi, based on this short period of observation, are calculating, decisive and highly capable of achieving their goals. The military command had shown the ability to learn quickly, and adapt and respond to new situations. Their awareness of the media’s role in the modern society, revealed in the appearance of young officers in news conferences, the army’s narratives being presented with pictured evidence, appears to be the outcome of long-established western influence. The Egyptian military forces nowadays, especially the high ranking commanders, are not strangers to the tradition of reporting with accuracy; the presence of high rank commanders at the front lines inquiring about events and identifying mistakes is not a rare sight. In fact it is part of the regular procedure. Learning from mistakes and implementing lessons learned has become standard protocol. The achievements of this organization are clearly evident, especially the ability to respond to a dynamic and a rapidly changing situation.

The impression is that the military supreme command has been successful at being at least one step ahead of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership. The last of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership was left without the option of any significant measure to respond to the pressure of the security establishment. The options from inside are as limited as those on the outside. The international arena is paying limited attention to the Egyptian crisis dealing with much more urgent problems of the Middle East. Considering the gloomy options, the best decision for both sides is compromise and dialogue. On that point, the service that America can provide is to help both sides reach the negotiation table. Neglecting this arena will bring the American President to have to deal with a much larger crisis in the future, and an escalating circle of violence in the one of the most important Arab countries.


*Dr. Barak Ben-Zur is an ICT research fellow, and for the fall semester a fellowship at the Center on National Security, Fordham University Law School.

The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT).